Dead Short

By Tony Sweatland

The cops showed up while Mickey was in surgery. Liz didn’t say much other than the basics. He tried to get me, we fought back. He shot at Mickey. Mickey shot back. They still had plenty of questions but they were understanding of the situation and made arrangements to talk later.

It’s protocol for the cops to show up with gunshot wounds but they would’ve been here regardless in this case. Between the gunshots, the explosion, and the Donovan’s house wide open and riddled with blood and glass, they had to look into it.

The doctors said Mickey would be fine. His dreams of playing short for the tigers are gone, but he’ll live. “It’ll be hard for a while. Physical therapy is grueling, and there’s gonna be some nerve damage, but he’ll survive.”

They sounded so optimistic, Liz thought. She was relieved, obviously, but they were still a bit cheerier than she cared for. She had just been put through the most traumatic experience of her life and now she was being told to recount the details, and these doctors were too happy about all of it.

The bullet hit him in the right shoulder. It missed his lungs by a few inches but he lost a lot of blood. Doctors said if Liz hadn’t got him here when she did, he probably would have died. She had dragged him from the house to the bed of the truck. She left it running out in front of the ER.

Bob Thurston is dead. Mickey was shooting back when he got hit. He hit him at least once. And if the bullet didn’t kill him, the fire definitely did. Liz never brought it up to the cops, and they didn’t mention it either.

Someone would be in charge of handling the charred remains of Bob, if there was anything left of him, depending on how close he was and how much gas had filled the room. He could have been dismembered.

By now the fire had been put out. The gas and electrical disconnected. Investigators would be looking around for a source. They wouldn’t have much luck. Natural gas explosions don’t leave much to look for.

They put Mickey in a private room after surgery. Liz held his hand and waited while he slept. She was still wearing a green and white MSU hoodie, splattered with blood, looking like a character out of some college slasher flick.

She just wanted to see his eyes, to hear him say everything was going to be alright.

Liz thought about all of this while Mickey enjoyed a drug-induced coma. She thought about the old neighbors, and what they must have went through with Bob.

The McConville’s had a legit farm about a hundred yards to the north. Acres and acres of corn and a small plot of various other vegetables. A never-ending supply of chickens and an Australian shepherd named Jackie that tried her best to keep them from wandering into coyote territory.

To the south, the nearest place was an old farm house turned rental that housed kids going to the nearby college. After learning about Bob, Mickey joked that he had it all wrong and he should have been doing the creepy neighbor bit with the coeds down the street. Kids today love serial killers.

Bob was the only other neighbor. They were separated by two long driveways and large front yards but he was still directly across the street. He was out front on the day they walked through the house, then again on the day they bought it, and again, and again, and again throughout the moving process. At first, they thought he was just a busy-body. An old man tending to his yard. It was impressive. Meticulously lined and edged, the plants in the flower beds always trimmed, his front yard looked like the cover of a landscaping magazine.

Mickey woke up while Liz was sleeping. It was around four in the morning. A nurse was checking in, looking at the various machines Mickey was hooked into. He held a finger up to his lips and motioned at Liz. The nurse smiled and whispered, “Good morning, Mr. Donovan. We’re glad to see you again. We’ll be back to check on you a little later.” And she slipped out, taking her time to gently close the big wooden door.

He sat and stared at Liz sleeping, curled up in a hospital chair with her head resting on a folded pillow on the arm rest. She had on scrubs and a zip-up Covenant Hospital hoodie. There was a translucent trash bag in the corner and Mickey could see her blood-spattered MSU hoodie stuffed inside.

This is the first time he’d been fully conscious since the shooting. He remembered bits and pieces of the whole thing, but there were giant gaps in between. Like shooting at Bob and waking up in a hospital. It was just like the movies. On his back rolling down a hallway, looking up at a bunch of people standing over him, working away. It wasn’t slow motion though, it was fast. Then it was gone, and he woke up here, in the semi-dark hospital room with his wife curled up in a chair next to him.

He knew Liz would have to fill him in on the situation, but not yet. The last few months have been hard, let alone last night. Let her sleep, he thought. When she woke up she could tell him how they got here, what happened to Bob, and anything else he might’ve missed but right now he just wanted to watch her sleep.

Liz started stirring a bit around five. She opened her eyes to adjust her pillow and sprang forward when she seen Mickey staring back at her. A little smile crept over his face. Her eyes welled up with tears as she got up and kissed him.

“Oh my god, Mickey,” she said. She was full-on crying now. No control whatsoever. Sobs at first and then tearful laughter. Mickey’s little smile had grown and he sighed with relief he hadn’t known in months.

They just sat there for a moment and then Mickey finally asked what happened to Bob, his voice tired, and raspy.

“You got him.” She said.

“He’s dead?”

“He’s dead.”

“And the police?”

“They were here asking questions. They’re coming back today.”

“What’d you tell em?’

“I told em what happened. He tried to get me, and you two shot each other.” She paused, then she said, “Mickey, the fire. It worked. They haven’t asked about it yet but I’m sure they will.”

 “We don’t know anything about it,” Mickey said.

When the nurses came back to check on Mickey, they were followed by two detectives.  

One of the two was a tall, bald, white guy with a goatee and his gun and badge clipped two his belt. He had an easy confidence about him that was almost arrogant. More like a caricature of a detective than an actual one.

He stood near the foot of the bed and said, “Hello Mr. and Mrs. Donovan. I’m sergeant Phillips with the Saginaw County Sheriff’s Department. This is my partner, Detective Vasquez. We’d like to ask you a few questions about the shooting.”

Detective Vasquez just gave a solemn nod and directed his attention back to Sergeant Phillips.

Phillips said, “We understand he was your neighbor. And we have a police report filed back in March regarding an incident in which he brandished a gun. Let’s start there.”

“He did more than brandish it. He fucking pointed it at Mickey.” Said Liz. “He threatened to shoot him.”

“Why?” asked detective Vasquez this time.

“Because I hit him,” said Mickey. “He was yelling at Liz, so I hit him. Then he threatened to shoot me.”

“In the report he claims you assaulted him unprovoked,” said Phillips.

“Bullshit. He was screaming at Liz in our driveway. I didn’t show up and start asking questions if that’s what you mean, but it sure as hell wasn’t unprovoked.”

“You broke his nose.” Vasquez this time, they were taking turns.

“He’s lucky that’s all I broke.”

“And then he pulled the gun?”

“Yeah.” Said Mickey

Vasquez wrote a few notes in a little flip top pad he had out. Phillips just stared at Mickey for a moment before he said, “tell me about the shooting. How’d it happen?”

“He broke in. She called me right away and I turned around. Liz was going for the gun when I got there. Her gun, in the safe. I could hear them struggling. I ran towards the fight and he was dragging her by the hair when I got there. I didn’t shoot back because Liz was too close, but he started shooting at me then.  He kept pulling her towards the door. When they were in the kitchen, Liz got a fork off the counter and stuck him in the leg with it. When he let go of her, she fell and I started shooting. That’s when we hit each other, I guess. I passed out after that.”

The two detectives glanced at each other before continuing. Then Vasquez started in on the fire.

“Then he went home, presumably, and his house just blew up somehow. You know anything about that?”

“What do you mean his house just blew up?” Mickey asked.

“His house exploded,” said Phillips. “He went home after your fight and his house just exploded. Natural gas, so we’ve been told. You don’t know anything about it?”

Mickey couldn’t shrug, but he raised his eyebrows and shook his head a little bit. He told the cops he didn’t know anything about it. ‘You sure?’ they asked. And Mickey stuck to it. Liz didn’t say anything. She just stared at Mickey, like her only concern was him and his recovery. None of this silly questioning mattered to her.

And that’s all they were going to get. Liz and Mickey Donovan knew how the fire started. And they knew that any information they gave about it meant premeditated murder. That was the risk they took to rid themselves of Bob.

He was spying on Liz. Every day when Mickey went to work. It was just a matter of time before he did something.

When Mickey left for work Tuesday morning, he drove two blocks away and stopped. Mickey took his tool belt out of the truck and crept through the patch of woods that seclude Bob’s house from the rest. He made his way inside through the garage window.

He chose the light in the kitchen. He turned it off and dropped the fixture. Then he disconnected the switch leg, and simply wrapped the bare end around the ground wire. He left it uncovered and stuffed the wires back in the base of the fixture. He put it back in place and left it looking perfectly normal.

A dead short occurs when an energized wire makes contact with any grounded portion of the electrical system, like the ground wire. It sparks and usually trips the breaker. But first it sparks.

Then Mickey just turned the stove burners on. All of them, on high.

Fill the room with gas and wait for a spark. Or fill the room with gas, and facilitate a spark.

He made his way back to the truck. When Liz called, Mickey went home. Five minutes after that, they were on their way to the hospital, and Bob Thurston on his way to hell. It didn’t go exactly how they planned it, but then again, nothing ever really does.


Bio: Tony Sweatland is a writer from Saginaw Michigan. He enjoys the company of his wife, their small army of pets, and making jokes about Uranus. He has previously published the story “Water Tower” with The Yard: Crime Blog.

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